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My Connection to My Grandmother's Country

by Dr Marion Kickett, Barladong Elder of York, Western Australia

Photo supplied by Dr Marion Kickett: Grace Brown Narrier, Marion's grandmother. Grace is a Wongatha or Wongi Western Desert People.

BARLADONG, YORK, Western Australia - I looked at the old man who had come to sit near me next to the fire. He must have made the fire earlier and was back with some more wood which he placed on the fire, making it crackle and spring to life. I watched him from where I sat. He had a bone in his nose and some markings on his arms and his chest. He placed more wood on the fire and then sat to the side of me. He never looked directly at me, and I never looked directly at him.

Where your country? The old man asked after a while. I looked at him for a few seconds and then looked away. I didn’t know him, and he didn’t know me, well, so I thought. I wasn’t used to people not knowing who I was. The old man didn’t force an answer from me. Instead, he told me where his country was by pointing this way and that. He then grabbed a hand full of red dirt and held it as he spoke in a low but pleasant voice.

He went on to tell me that this was where he belonged. He seemed happy as he spoke about his country and home, and this was truly where he belonged. I found my voice and the courage to use it. I told him I didn’t belong here no I didn’t belong here. I was a Noongar, and I belonged in Noongar country far, far away from here. He looked at me and smiled then nodded, showing he understood. He motioned with his head towards my grandmother and said, ‘your grandmother’. He patted the ground and said her country, this her country, its where she belongs.

I didn’t ask how he knew this. I understood he knew the old lady laying over near the other fire was my grandmother.

I looked back at him, a worried look. I was worried about Grandmother, and it showed on my face. His smile wasn’t directed at me, he just had a smile as he spoke and said, ‘she will be right yes, she will be alright.’ I felt better or I should say relieved really. I told him Grandmother wasn’t the best. On the way here to her country she wasn’t eating, only drinking small amounts of water my mother was giving her. She now laid a little away from me, near another fire, not moving just still, very still laying near the fire.

Some men came and brought a kangaroo for the old man to eat, he motioned for them to throw it on the fire. Just a few minutes and the roo was turned over and not long after this the old man broke part of the kangaroos tail off and offered it to me.

I shook my head as I saw the blood running down his arm. That roo still jumpin, I thought. The old man reading the expression on my face put the tail back in the fire. He started to eat the meat which I thought was raw, some would say it was rare.

He looked at me as he leant over to take the tail out of the fire, I shook my head, so he left the tail to continue cooking on the coals of the fire.

After just a few seconds he wanted to take the meat out again and again. I shook my head. A couple of minutes went by, and I motioned for him to turn the meat over and he did. He left it on the coals cooking and waited for me to take the meat out. I allowed the tail to cool on my enamel plate.

Noongars! The old man said as he watched me devour the meat. Yes! Noongars, I said, like their meat cooked. Not raw and still jumping. He looked at me and we both burst out laughing, he slapped his leg as he laughed.

I now looked at him and pointed to the bone that was through his nose. You got that done on your country? I boldly asked. He looked at me and nodded. I now felt okay telling him where my country was. I didn’t feel so scarred anymore. I knew having that bone in his nose meant he was an important man in this community, in this country that wasn’t mine but my grandmother’s.

In my country we have a river with lots and lots of food, I told him. Gilgies, cobblers, turtles, and ducks too.

Remembering my grandmother’s words, I continued on saying. I was born on my country, and it is where I belong, and it belongs to me.

When I feel weak, I go home to my country and my country makes me strong.

When I feel sad, I walk on my country and my country makes me happy.

When I feel sick, I lay down on my country and my country heals me.

I looked over to where Grandmother laid. She hadn’t moved she just laid on her country on this old man’s country.

The old women now came and sat with grandmother, and they sang on country on my grandmother’s country, they came and sat down and sang on country.

Back home, I had heard my grandmother telling my mum she was sick. ‘Don’t take me to a doctor they can’t help me. Take me home to my country. It is there where I need to go, home to country to rest and to heal. I have been away for far too long I have to go home and rest on country, I need to heal on my country because its where I belong its where I need to go. I have been away for far too long my country is calling me, calling me home, country calling me home because I am sick. I need to go home, yes; I am sick so take me home take me home to my country.

So, Grandmother had come to us as she was sick and asked my mum to take her home quick. So, my older sister came, and we drove and drove to get Grandmother home out of our country to her country.

We arrived early in the morning after driving all night. I remember my older sister saying she didn’t want to hit any kangaroos. Grandmother assured her that we would be okay as the old people would take care of us. We stopped on the side of the road at about 3am and slept until dawn. We pulled out as the sun was coming up. Grandmother said we only had an hour or so to go until we would arrive where she had to go.

Grandmother’s skin was dark and she had thick white hair. I remember her saying to us when we asked why she was so black, that she had a drop of white blood, yes just a drop, she would laughingly say, and this was her answer to us as she watched us play.

One of her eyes was different to the other. She had a cataract on this eye and couldn’t see out of it. Even so I never underestimated what Grandmother could see. She often told me that she didn’t need to see us kids, she could feel us or sense our presence. She was old and we respected her always.

When we arrived, Grandmother’s people were waiting for us. Some of the younger women came and helped us take her to the place they had prepared for her, near the fire. She struggled to walk but she laid down and stayed lying down, only sitting up to drink water and the chicken broth that my mother had made.

I looked at the time and it was 5pm. As we sat and ate the food our mother prepared, Grandmother joined us. I gave her my biggest smile and told her she looked so much better. Grandmother looked at me and smilingly said ‘I am home been too long since I been home, I am right now.

I quizzed Grandmother about the old man. She told me of his importance and that he was her uncle. She also told me what I was to call him in her language. A language foreign to me.

We stayed a few days waiting for Grandmother to regain her strength. After five days, she told my mum we could go home. It was a long trip back home and it was important for us to leave soon. I realised we were leaving my grandmother here on her country to heal some more. I knew she would make her way back to us as she always did.

I remembered what I had told the old man (Grandmother’s uncle) my great, great uncle when I first arrived.

When I feel weak, I go home to my country and my country makes me strong.

When I feel sad, I walk on my country and my country makes me happy.

When I feel sick, I lay down on my country and my country heals me.

As I helped pack the car, I found some fruit cake I had helped bake in the oven in the ground. I sought out old uncle and gave him the cake which he gladly accepted.

Feeling much more comfortable with him, I told him Grandmother had healed here on his country. She was stronger and happier here on her country. I explained I too was much stronger and happier here with her on her country.

He asked me to pour some tea for him before I went and as he drank his tea and ate his cake, he told me to never forget my grandmother’s country. My reply was I wouldn’t as I now knew my connection to this country, his country, my grandmother’s country.

About Marion

Marion Kickett is a Noongar woman from the Balardong language group. Born in the Wheatbelt town of York, Marion spent her early years living on the York Reserve. After completing two bachelor’s degrees, Marion completed her PhD at The University of Western Australia on ‘Resilience’ from an Aboriginal perspective, using an Aboriginal methodology. She previously worked in the areas of Public Health and Academia for thirty years.

Permission has been granted to The Brilliant Foundation by Dr Marion Kickett, Barladong Elder of York, Western Australia in support of the Australian National NAIDOC Week - The Theme "For Our Elders."

This article is originally published in the Westerly - First Nations 22 June 2023, the Westerly Centre (formerly the Centre for Studies in Australian Literature) at the University of Western Australia, with assistance in project funding from the Western Australian State Government through the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, and the Australian Federal Government through the Australia Council for the Arts. The Writers’ Development Program and Mid-Career Fellowship is supported by Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.

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